Refugee crisis: are human rights universal?

Comment: written by Harriet King.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written for the entire human race – not just for certain communities, classes, or nations. So, why do some states still fail to follow the declaration?

Social rights, economic rights, gender rights, racial rights, education rights, and slavery rights – the list is never ending.

Seen as independent of any government, human rights is a universal law that has materialized throughout history, stemmed from religious beliefs. Also formed from natural order and expectations; they are entitlements that should be applied to any human, anywhere in the world.

 It is inevitable that in an area that lacks political stability, it will also lack human rights. A corrupt government has no desire to protect its people, and usually fails to follow basic laws, let alone obtain moral duty or obligation. Other authorities simply ignore that Human Rights even exist.

For example, the recent refugee crisis, which as seen one of the biggest influxes of international migration in years, highlights the fact of Human Rights is dependent on culture and livelihood.

Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees defines a refugee as “an individual who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

It is estimated 4.1 million Syrian refugees have fled their country – riven by its five-year long civil war. Turkey has accepted a staggering two million refugees, while neighbouring Lebanon has accepted over one million. However, countries such as the UK, the US, Spain and Australia are failing to accept large numbers of refugees, or alternatively make the asylum process difficult and lengthy.

The convention does not state that certain nationalities or those of certain backgrounds are not eligible. Surely, those experiencing war are equally entitled to basic human rights as those living amongst security.

The International Justice Resource Centre (IJRC) states: “Refugee law and international human rights law are closely intertwined; refugees are fleeing governments that are either unable or unwilling to protect their basic human rights. Additionally, in cases where the fear of persecution or threat to life or safety arises in the context of an armed conflict, refugee law also intersects with international humanitarian law.”

“Refugees are entitled to the following human rights through international laws: non-refoulement, freedom of movement, family life, liberty and security, education, access to justice, employment and other fundamental freedom rights.”

However, if a refugee is not accepted into a country then the aforementioned rights cannot be applied – meaning the “international law” is not international. It has been accepted by certain countries, and ignored by others.

Universalism within human rights should essentially be broken down into the question of ‘what makes us human?’ The right to feel happiness, the right to feel safe, the right to a family, and the right to a life – these are the emotions and sensations desired by all humans.

Regardless of legal or political obligations, populations and governments have a moral responsibility to protect those fleeing warzones. The right to safety is an objective, basic human right. Yet countries that continuously pride themselves on having one of the world’s best economies, governments and societies fail to apply this basic human right and welcome refugees from across the world.

The truth is, human rights belong to humans – not to a government neither the legal system. Human rights should transcend boarders and state politics.


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